When I told people I was going on holidays to Hawaii, the conversation went like this:
Them: “Great! Are you going by yourself or…?”
Me: “I’m doing an Intrepid trip.”
Them (incredulously): “Intrepid do trips in Hawaii?”
If you’re after something a little more exciting than lounging around at a beach resort in Honolulu, here’s why a small group adventure in Hawaii might be just what you’re looking for.
1. Hawaii is expensive (like, really expensive)
Flights into Honolulu are cheap (from Australia at least), but once you get there, expect to pay top dollar for your accommodation and activities. I was travelling solo, and going on a group trip was a much more affordable option. Not only can you share a room, but it meant that many of our optional activities were free as our ever-obliging tour leader, Charlie, could drive us around, meaning we saved money on hiring cars or booking day tours. Public transport is in short supply anywhere outside of Oahu.
2. Group tour = instant friends
If I’d gone on my own I’m not sure I would have done half the things that we were able to do as a group, beginning with a sunset sail in Waikiki Bay and getting to know my new Australian, Swiss, German, South African and American friends over a Mai Tai or two.
3. Hawaii is made for adventure
After a quick flight to Kauai, we kayaked up the Wailua River, then trekked for an hour through beautiful (but muddy) forest trails to a waterfall for a swim. The next day, we took a helicopter flight over Waimea Canyon and the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, followed by an afternoon hike through the Na Pali Coast State Park. In Kona, we snorkelled above coral reefs alongside tropical fish and dolphins, then enjoyed a night swim with manta rays. A small group of us paddled out to a platform, which was lit from below by fluorescent lights; the lights attracted plankton, which drew in the huge rays, who fed on the plankton while we looked on in awe. The graceful creatures are truly magnificent and being able to see them so close was a real privilege.
4. The landscapes have to be seen to be believed
Craggy mountain ranges, dense jungle, colourful tropical flowers, stunning coastlines… I could go on and on. The landscapes in Hawaii are really something else. And sure, you can enjoy them just as much as if you were travelling on your own, but with a group there’s always someone to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and ‘hey, isn’t that where they shot Jurassic Park?’ with.
5. Someone else takes care of the driving
When we arrived in Maui, Charlie suggested a driving tour of part of the famed Road to Hana. Some stats on this road: 52 miles (84 kilometres) long, 617 switchbacks, and 56 one-lane bridges. It’s not an easy drive, and certainly not something I’d feel comfortable doing on my own. The Road to Hana deserves its fame as one of the world’s most scenic drives (and it was rated as a highlight by most of our group). There are heaps of spots to stop along the way, like waterfalls, lava tubes, bamboo forests, and ice cream shops (a must).
As a solo traveller, doing an Intrepid trip was really the best way to maximise my time in Hawaii and minimise the cost. All the activities I’ve mentioned would have required transport to get to – either a rental car, taxi or day tour – plus some of them just weren’t possible or safe for one person. Kayaking was in double kayaks, swimming with Manta rays at night by yourself would just be stupid, and if you self-drove the Road to Hana, you’d miss half the sights from having to concentrate on the road. For me it was really the best way to truly experience all that Hawaii has to offer.
Urm, but what about the volcano? It’s not safe to travel to the Big Island, right?
Since early May, reports on many news networks have been depicting the Island of Hawaii (aka the Big Island) as a burning inferno of spewing lava, ash clouds and toxic fumes, but this isn’t entirely the case. Kilauea volcano has actually been erupting from a remote vent in its East Rift Zone since 1983, and has been belching out lava flows in parts of the Volcanoes National Park ever since. On May 3, following a 5.0 earthquake, cracks in the ground near a housing estate in Puna opened up, forcing the evacuation of residents; to date, there have been no reported fatalities.
But in terms of safety, travel to the Big Island is totally fine. Travellers are obviously not allowed into the lava flow area, and are not in danger of breathing in any toxic gases (this is only a problem when lava hits seawater).
Are visitor attractions still open?
They sure are. While most of the Volcanoes National Park is closed, there’s still HEAPS to do on the Big Island, like hiking, exploring the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and Kaumana Caves, checking out a coffee plantation (and sampling their famous brew), or enjoying some beach time at Spencer State Beach, Beach 69 or Hapuna State Beach.
So I shouldn’t cancel my plans?
Definitely not. Hawaii needs our travel dollars more than ever right now.
Ready to explore Hawaii’s spectacular islands? Book your spot on a small group adventure now.
Feature image by Graig Zethner.